From time immemorial through the period of agriculture to the period of industrial development, land has remained the most valuable property in the life of man and his development. It is a source of wealth to those who have it and it is the mother of all properties. In other words, virtually all the basic needs of human existence are land dependent. In view of the importance and usefulness of land to man and his development as well as the development of his society, every person generally desires to acquire and own a portion of land to achieve the various ends for which the land is meant. Therefore, to make land available to all in Nigeria and to ensure that land is acquired and put to proper use for the needed development, governments during and after colonial period enacted laws to govern the use of land in Nigeria.
Prior to the enactment of the Land Use Act in 1978, there were three (3) main sources of land law, namely:-
- Customary Law
- English Received Law
- Local Legislation
There was also a duality of Land Use System in the Southern and Northern parts of the country. The parliament of the Northern Nigeria passed a Land Tenure Law in 1962, which governed all interest affecting land. The Land Tenure Law vested all land in the governor who was to hold in trust for the people and only rights of occupancy could be granted to other people. The consent of the governor was required before any transfer of interest in land could take place.
In the then Southern Nigeria, customary system of land tenure governed land interest and land was owned by communities, families and individuals in freehold. Land was acquired either by inheritance, first settlement, conveyance, gift, outright purchase or long possession. There were also crown lands, which were acquired by the British Crown by virtue of treaty, convention or agreement. When Nigeria attained independence, such crown land became known as state land.
Notwithstanding the existence of laws regulating land, the problems of land tenure and land administration persisted both in the Northern and Southern Nigeria. There were new problems such as land racketeering and speculations. Exorbitant compensations were demanded by land owners whenever the government acquired land for development. Thus, acquisition of land by government or individuals was becoming almost impossible in Nigeria.
In fact, one of the major factors that was said to be a hindrance against efficient implementation of the second development plan of 1975-1980, was lack of land development project. To break the barrier and monopolies of landlords, the Federal Military Government set up some panels to consider how best to solve the problems associated with land tenure and administration in Nigeria. The report of one of these panels (the Land Use Panel of 1977) eventually formed the basis of the Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978.
SUMMARY OF THE LAND USE ACT OF 1978
The Land Use Decree (now Land Use Act) was promulgated on the 29th of March 1978 following the recommendations of minority report of a panel appointed by the Military Government of the time, to advice on future land policy. With immediate effect, it vested all land in each state of the federation in the governor of each state.
The Act vested all lands comprised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the Federal Government for its agencies) solely in the hands of the military governors of the state who would hold such land in trust for the people.
The promulgation of this Act was as a result of two factors:
- The diversity of customary laws on the land tenure and difficulty in applying the various customs of the different people.
- The rampant practice of Southern Nigeria with regards to fraudulent sales of land. The same land would be sold to different persons.
The Act envisaged that “rights of occupancy”, which would appear to replace all previous system or rules of inheritance to land, would form the basis upon which land was to be held. These rights were of two kinds:
- “Statutory rights of occupancy” were to be granted by the Governor and related principally to urban areas.
- “Customary right of occupancy”, according to the Act, means the right of a person or community lawfully using or occupying land in accordance with customary law and includes a customary right of occupancy granted by Local Government under this Act.
Local governments were empowered to grant customary rights of occupancy to any person or organization for agricultural, residential and other purposes with the proviso that grants of land for agricultural or grazing purposes should not exceed 500 or 5000 hectares respectively without the consent of the State Governor. With the minor exception of land subject to Federal or State claims, the Act also empowered the local government to enter upon, use and occupy for public purposes any land within the area of its jurisdiction and to revoke any customary right of occupancy on any such land. The approval of the local government was to be required for the holder of a customary right of occupancy to alienate that right.
The Act prohibits the alienation by assignment, mortgage, transfer or possession, sub-lease or otherwise, of customary right of occupancy without the consent of either the Governor or the Local Government as the case may be. It also prohibits the alienation of statutory right of occupancy without the due consent of the Governor (Land Use Act, 1978: section 21 subsections a and b).
Governors were empowered to revoke rights of occupancy for reasons of “overriding public interest.” Such reasons included alienation by an occupier without requisite consent or approval; a breach of the conditions governing occupancy; or the requirement of the land by Federal, State, or local government for public purposes. Only in the last of these cases would any compensation be due to the holder, and then only for the value of in-exhausted improvements on the land and not for the land itself.
There are four (4) main objectives derivable from the act and these are:
- To effect structural change in the system of land tenure
- To achieve fast economic and social transformation
- To negate economic inequality caused by the appropriation of rising land values by land speculators and land holders
- To make land available easily and cheaply, to both the government and private individual developers.